Review: Astell&Kern AKT8iE mkii – Age of Consent

Disclaimer: Astell&Kern lent me the sample reviewed in this review. The AKT8iE mkii is a single dynamic driver earphone. It goes for 999$ USD. You can find out all about it here: THE ESSENCE OF TESLA TECHNOLOGY AK T8iE MkⅡ.

An earphone so slim, so light, so ergonomic, and styled so much like a damn mirrorball had every right to expect the screw eye from audiophiles. Instead, praise upon praise was heaped on the original AKT8iE. And for good reason. It nearly ticked every box important to audiophiles.

Then, reviewers and owners alike noticed issues with its MMCX, and internal wiring. Guarantee issues, complicated by the quasi OEM/designer relationship between A&K and Beyerdynammic, surfaced. It appears that mkii has addressed most of those issues. Still, if you’re keen on the mkii, I suggest purchasing from a vendor with a good return policy, or with good relations with Beyer/AK service departments. I don’t want to suggest it. I want to suggest that mkii is the earphone that capped the original’s build issues. It’s like Leica’s S: brilliant concept, elegantly designed for fast, ergonomic use, but plagued by autofocus motor burnouts. Later revisions appear to have addressed this, but the funk from the original remains.

astell-kern-akt8ie-mkii-2

I’ve spent thirty minutes with the original, mostly at Fujiya Avic a year ago. What an experience. The mki was unforgettable. It was the most comfortable earphone I had ever put into my ears. And it sounded good. I’ve had mkii on my desk, in my shirt pocket, and plugged into everything from Apple’s Lightning to 3,5mm Headphone Adapter, Astell&Kern’s XB10, and an AK70, for about three weeks.

It grows and grows on me and is now my favourite single-driver earphone of all time.

Not sound

Just like the original, a few over-engineered bits encumber the TK8iE mkii. Its hard-sided carrying case doesn’t compress nicely into tight spaces, bulging out in a shirt and trouser pockets. It’s like a luxury pill box and isn’t at all utilitarian.

The TK8iE’s elliptical sound tubes work great with the included ear pieces and help the earphone lay flat and suck right into the outer ear canal. But, if you want to use third-party options, they make it super easy for ear piece apertures to close in on the sound tube and muck up the sound. The included tips fit me like a glove. They fit so well in fact, that they make me question the utility of a custom earphone. Good fit comes first. All else follows. That said, a couple of pretty high-profile mates of mine can’t get the AKT8iE to fit well in their ears. I don’t know how this is even possible. Perhaps they want a really deep fit, or didn’t fiddle enough. Perhaps their ear canals are irregularly shaped. Whichever it is, outlier ear shapes probably will fit less well with the AKT8iE than with traditionally-shaped universal earphones.

akt8ie-mkii-5-of-7

My wife’s lady ears are too small to comfortably house most earphones. But she gets on perfectly with the TK8iE mkii, which was a big surprise for her. Personally, the TK8iE fits like moulded glove. I’ve not used a better-fitting universal earphone. Brilliant.

The new cable is much thicker than the original. It isn’t ready to garrote a horse though. (Shame.) It distends and discolours when racked between the semi-taut forearms of an advertising photographer. It is far more robust than the twisted-pair cable packed in with Nuforce’s great-sounding HEM series, but hardly a robust monopole. The MMCX connector dully clicks into place and snaps away much more easily than the Sword in the Stone Ultrasone IQ. Only on the plug will you find stress reliefs, y-split cinch edges are finished about as roughly as the shirt clip, and the neck cinch slips down from time to time.

The steel shirt clip looks good from the front, but its rough side edges give it away as a quick pack-in. [update]Since the cable is mostly silent, the only thing it does is batten things down to your shirt- if that. Personally, I consider it a poorly-finished attempt at a value-add.

[update] Seated properly, the AKT8iE isolates about a step below a good-fitting custom. It isolates the outside quite a bit more than an Ocharaku, and about the same as a perfectly seated Campfire Andromeda.

The earphone shape is a perfect example of form following function. If it doesn’t fit your ears, you have funny ears. Its mirror finish scratches, as does the painted logo panel. The housings cleave well, with only a modicum of shift along the edges. And they are clear and reflective enough to play carnival faces when squinting close.

Sound and more after the jump:

Review: Astell&Kern AKT8iE mkii – Age of Consent
4.3 (85.38%) 26 votes

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Back before he became the main photographer for bunches of audio magazines and stuff, Nathan was fiddling with pretty cool audio gear all day long at TouchMyApps. He loves Depeche Mode, trance, colonial hip-hop, and raisins. Sometimes, he gets to listening. Sometimes, he gets to shooting. Usually he's got a smile on his face. Always, he's got a whisky in his prehensile grip.

15 Comments

  • Reply October 13, 2016

    Barun C

    Those are some high praises for the Beyer Flagship IEM. The best part of the article was right in the end with the term over-engineering. Anyway, you have very carefully chosen the words when you state “my favourite single-driver earphone of all time”. So that leads me to a few questions. An BTW, excellent review as always Nathan.

    1. Does it best the Single Driver Donguri Keyaki Ti Plus in terms of overall SQ & presentation?
    2. How well does it do in comparison to the BA driver TOTL CF Andromeda in terms of SQ?
    3. How is the isolation of the T8IE MKII ?
    4. Is there any noticeable cable noise?

    Thanks

    • Reply October 13, 2016

      ohm image

      I’m getting worse at these things.

      I updated re: isolation, Andromeda, and cable noise. As for Donguri Keyaki Ti… I don’t own it and I’ve not borrowed it. I will try to check it out in the upcoming Fujiya show. Thanks for the editing help!

      • Reply October 13, 2016

        Barun C

        Hey thanks a lot for addressing those points so fast. I hate to be so nit picky but it should be Comfort instead of Comfory in the Andromeda update before the End Words segment.

        Thanks for making it easier for me to decide upon my next UIEM purchase. Appreciate it.

  • Reply October 13, 2016

    cl ch

    thank you nathan, insightful review as always! i’ve always been a over ears headphone person, but life changes, i have recently embarked on an iem auditioning binge… i agree with you completely with the bass and comfort aspects of this iem, but i did find the treble texture to be more noticible than i would like.

    of the iems that i tried out, i really liked campfire’s line of BAs (except for the Nova, where the mids were too “thick” for my music), as well as the fitear TG334 and parterre. To be honest, aside from one glaring “flaw” (to me), the Parterre would have been my pick, as i listen to a good deal of ambient and live music. Unfortunately, it thinned out deeper male voices a little too much. I also liked Dita answer (truth) but it’s captive cable is a negative for me, Noble Savant has some of the spaciousness of the parterre but the fit was not too comfortable to me.

    Are there any other iems that i should try out?

    I currently own and love the lcd X, HD650 and the CA Orion (with litz cable), and my musical taste crosses most genres, esp genres covered in the Quietus and Pitchfork.

    i thank you in advance!

    • Reply October 18, 2016

      ohm image

      It’s going to sound like quite a step down (price wise at least), but why not check out Nuforce’s HEM2 or HEM6. You’ll save loads of dosh, but get more powerful male vocals as well as slightly toned treble. Good luck.

      • Reply October 23, 2016

        cl ch

        thanks for the tip, plus my wallet thanks you!

  • Reply November 19, 2016

    Al

    How do these compare to the Grade gr10e and Flare R2 pro? Are they a complete step above?

    • Reply November 20, 2016

      ohm image

      In terms of 3D z-axis and power, above, certainly. In terms of transparent linearity, no. For that, the GR10 still reign supreme in my opinion.

  • Reply January 17, 2017

    Musiclvr

    An you shed any light on the mkii’s contrast against the DITA Audio Answer (Truth Edition)? I own the DITA Truth and the Andromeda’s and find the Andro’s miss to be quite seductive whereas the DITA Truths mids are ever so slightly more detailed. I’m just wondering where the mkii sits in all this?

    • Reply January 17, 2017

      ohm image

      If you’re looking for texture detail, I find the MKII to be better, but for between-instrument contrast, Andromeda is king.

  • Reply January 17, 2017

    ezekiel_77

    Hi Nathan, since you have heard both, would you mind comparing briefly with Oriolus MK2? In terms of sound signature and head-stage. Thank you.

    • Reply January 17, 2017

      ohm image

      I’m afraid that I’ve heard MKII only for a few minutes, and not in direct comparison. Sorry to be of nothing help.

  • Reply March 11, 2017

    Peter Hyatt

    A most careful reading of the blurbs from AK (or is it Beyer?) strongly suggest that the only “improvement” is the glitch fix.

    I, too, bought an original that needed replacement (same issue as others) and had no problem with the guarantee.

    The sound is amazing; like nothing I have heard before in in ear monitors. For me, they are “once in a life time” purchase. The sense of fidelity and “lack of coloring” gives them balance. They are not bass heavy, nor bass light, but can handle all genre because they are intended to faithfully produce rather than aimed at any particular taste. This is why they go from the Beatles to Bach, easily.

    The production is, as described, like fine jewelry. They are the “Mercedes Benz” of in ear monitors.

  • Reply April 5, 2017

    Dante

    I’m trying to decide between the T8iE MkII and Unique Melody Martian’s.
    Which would you prefer for clarity and details?

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